Op-Ed and Letter to the Editor Guidelines

Here are simple guidelines and suggestions about writing letters to the editor or op-ed articles:

1. Op-ed articles and letters should express an opinion. Don’t just analyze and issue; editors want to see fresh viewpoints

2. Don’t be concerned that others may have better credentials to address a topic. The craft of op-ed and letter writing is to say it well.

3. Read some op-ed articles and letter to get a sense of their structure. For most venues, the op-ed you write should be about 600 to 800 words. A letter to the editor can be as short as one sentence (for national weeklies) or a paragraph.

4. Make your point in an interesting way. Then support your statement. Include statistics, anecdotes, results of studies, etc. It is not enough to simply state a point of view; it must also be supported by logical argument.

5. Write tightly. Avoid jargon. Write simply, clearly. Don’t try to explore every point. Focus on the point you feel is most interesting or important.

6. Try humor, if the piece lends itself to humor. Don’t be afraid to be personal if it helps make the point. Don’t be afraid to be controversial, but don’t be outrageous. Be firm but not fanatical.

7. Run it by the Communications office. Don’t be offended if the piece is edited; you must approve the final draft. The op-ed article or letter must be aimed at a general audience. What makes your opinions of interest to the public is your knowledge and fresh approach to a subject.

8. At the end of the op-ed or letter, briefly list your credentials to comment on a given subject. If you have written a book or lectured on the subject, say so. If a committee membership is pertinent, list it. Include telephone numbers and places you can be reached to discuss your comments.

9. When writing on a topic relevant to your academic credentials, please follow your name with your position at Bates.

10. We can’t guarantee that your submission will be used, but you can be sure that every effort will be made to place it. A succinct letter usually has a higher chance of placement because of limited space. It is usually important to write your piece while an issue is current, but be patient if your article is submitted to a series of periodicals.